I just got done watching the second half of the Cougs on my TiVo, and, even though I'm tired, I just had to get on here and say: It never feels good to lose, but I'm darn proud of the Cougs for the way they fought USC tonight. This is the first Cougar loss in a long time that I haven't walked away wondering "what if." The reality is that we just got beat by a better team.
And I'm OK with that.
I'll have a full breakdown of the weekend in football up on the site on Monday -- including the Seahawks matchup with the Bears -- but in the meantime, I've just got to say my boys did me proud. I'm excited for what the rest of this season holds.
Way to go, Cougs.
I just got done watching the second half of the Cougs on my TiVo, and, even though I'm tired, I just had to get on here and say: It never feels good to lose, but I'm darn proud of the Cougs for the way they fought USC tonight. This is the first Cougar loss in a long time that I haven't walked away wondering "what if." The reality is that we just got beat by a better team.
Big weekend for football fans in Washington state! The Cougs get to find out if they're contenders, or just merely pretenders, while the Huskies look to continue playing with house money by picking up a Pac-10 road win. Here's a look at today's games:
No 3. Southern Cal (3-0, 1-0 Pac-10) at Washington State (3-1, 1-0)
Line: Trojans by 17.
How we got here: The Cougs' season continues to move ahead according to form after a 36-10 thrashing of Stanford last week that wasn't even that close. WSU rolled up 238 yards on the ground against the Cardinal, moving the Cougars up to No. 2 in the Pac-10 in rushing at 189.8 yards per game. That rushing game is what has driven WSU so far, using a three-headed attack to keep defenses off balance. Sophomore DeMaundray Woolridge still leads the team with 211 yards (5.6 yards per carry), but redshirt freshman Dwight Tardy is right on his heels with 205 yards (4.9 yards per carry). Transfer Darrell Hutsona has been a great change of pace, reminiscent of Jerome Harrison in his first season. The defense has been spectacular at times, albeit against weaker competition than USC, including Mkristo Bruce's five sacks last weekend. The Cougars' secondary -- the major weakness of the team last year -- has comported itself surprisingly well so far, ranking second in the league in pass defense efficiency.
Meanwhile, USC continues to prove that Trojans don't rebuild, they just reload. Many questioned how Southern Cal would cope with the loss of 11 players drafted by the NFL, including Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Well, the answer is very well, thank you. Playing two of their first three games on the road, the Trojans have yet to really be tested. It was close through most of the first three quarters last week against Arizona, but the Wildcats never showed enough offensive gumption to make you believe that they actually could pull off the upset. John David Booty is showing why he was so highly recruited in the first place, although his 6.34 yards per attempt is below what you would expect out of what is supposed to be a big-play offense.
Key matchup: I think WSU will be able to score some points, although the rushing attack will not roll the way it has the past three weeks. And I think the Cougs' front seven is good enough to contain the Trojan rushing attack. The real test will be if this defensive secondary truly is improved, or if it's a mirage created by playing Idaho (a run-oriented team for the time being), Baylor (a spread offense mostly looking for five-yard dump-offs), and Stanford (a team down pretty much to walk-ons at wide receiver). All indications are that Dwayne Jarrett won't play, so that will be a boost to the Cougs. If they can continue to stay away from giving up the big plays that plagued them last year, they've got a shot at the upset.
Prediction: Even without Jarrett, USC will get its points. Although the Cougs will be able to keep it close, I look for a couple of key mistakes -- a fumble, a Brink interception, or a big pass play on defense -- to be the difference. It will feel like WSU is in it the whole way, but just can't do enough to get over the top. If I was a betting man, I'd take the Cougs plus the 17 all the way to the bank. USC 31, WSU 24.
Washington (3-1, 1-0) at Arizona (2-2, 0-1)
Line: Arizona by 3.
How we got here: Washington is flying high right now, fresh off a stunning comeback upset of UCLA last weekend at home. The Huskies outscored the Bruins 22-3 in the second half -- including 15-0 in the fourth quarter -- to give the UW faithful reason to believe that this team just might be able to pull off three more wins and sneak into its first bowl game since the 2002 Sun Bowl. Isaiah Stanback, a frequent target of Husky fans' ire, seems to be getting better with each game; he, without a doubt, was the difference against UCLA, throwing for 202 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another 46 yards. Make no mistake: This is a game the Huskies would have puked away in the past.
Arizona, meanwhile, has to be both encouraged and discouraged by last week's performance. Encouraged by the fact that the game was so close for so long, but discouraged that sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama just doesn't seem to be able to get that cannon arm untracked. After a spectacular freshman season, Tuitama has been pedestrian, throwing just two touchdowns against four interceptions. He'll be looking to get it rolling against a UW pass defense that had been thought to be pretty weak, but only gave up 187 passing yards to the Bruins.
Key matchup: I don't know of any other team in the country whose success or failure is more determined by just one player. Everything the Huskies do -- or don't do -- rides on the arm and legs of Stanback. Period. If he plays well against a defense that was good enough to beat USC for most of last week, then the UW has a chance. If he reverts back to the inexplicably poor decisions that have cost the Huskies so many times in the past, look out. Because when he makes mistakes, they're not just little mistakes. They're colossal ones.
Prediction: For the reasons just mentioned, I wouldn't bet on this game if my mortgage depended on it. In my mind, Stanback is still just way too unpredictable, and I don't see the Huskies winning any games this year (save for maybe Stanford) that Stanback doesn't play well in. That said, I think Arizona's offense is pretty bad, and I think that's the difference. Washington 17, Arizona 14.
Today's announcement that Shaun Alexander has a broken bone in his foot merely confirms what I've suspected for a couple of weeks: That his foot was bothering him a lot more than he was letting on all along, and was, in fact, the biggest factor in the running game's woes this season.
Nobody knows for sure exactly when Alexander sustained the break, but I have a sneaking suspicion it came part-way through the first quarter. Check out Alexander's first four runs of the game:
- 1-2-NYG2(12:44) S.Alexander up the middle for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
- 1-10-NYG47(10:49) S.Alexander left tackle to NYG 43 for 4 yards (A.Pierce).
- 3-2-NYG39(9:44) S.Alexander left guard to NYG 27 for 12 yards (G.Wilson).
- 1-12-NYG12(7:42) S.Alexander right tackle to NYG 12 for no gain (B.Cofield).
However, his next carry looks like this:
- 2-10-NYG27(5:44) S.Alexander left tackle to NYG 26 for 1 yard (A.Pierce, M.Strahan).
- He carried the ball 15 times after that run.
- He gained just 28 yards -- a 1.86 yard average.
- Of those 15 runs ...
- Seven went up the middle (46.6 percent)
- Six went to the right (40 percent)
- Just two went to the left (13.3 percent)
If the Giants were looking for tendencies -- and I know they were, since that's what coaches do -- they noticed exactly what I did: That he absolutely could not cut on that left foot without any pain, something you need to do on a run to the left. This also could also help explain why his production declined so dramatically the rest of the game. In fact, of his last seven carries, only three went for positive yards, the longest a three-yard gain.
Alexander gave it his best effort and kept running hard, as he converted a 4th-and-1 and a 3rd-and-2 before leaving for good in the third quarter, but he was fighting an uphill battle with that foot. (Here's to hoping this is the last we hear of Alexander being soft, or not gaining yards because he got that fat contract.)
So, what does this mean for the Seahawks? Well, it sounds like there's an outside possibility that Alexander could only miss a couple of weeks. Mike Holmgren said the fracture is non-displaced, which is a great sign and could mean that Alexander is only out a couple of weeks. (For more on exactly what non-displaced means, click here. The site is geared toward broken collarbones, but it does explain the key components of a fracture.)
If that is indeed true, it's possible he could only miss one game, since the bye week follows this Sunday's huge matchup with the Bears -- that would give him three weeks from the day he suffered the injury to get well enough to play again. Holmgren mentioned Monday that Alexander didn't want to come out of the game when he did; I'm sure they'll have a similarly difficult time keeping him off the field in a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, I'm sure Maurice Morris will do a capable job as his replacement; there's even a line of thought that Morris is a better fit for the running game at the moment because of his quickness to the hole. What scares me is if anything happens to Morris, since the injuries are starting to mount up. We're one snap away from Josh Scobey being our running back, and the myriad injuries are making it more difficult to add a guy like Marquis Weeks from the practice squad.
Not to look past the Bears, but in terms of the health of the entire season, the bye week is coming along at the perfect time: Besides the potential return of Alexander, tight ends Jerramy Stevens and Itula Mili should both be ready to return to full-time action, as should guard Chris Gray. If the Seahawks can somehow figure out a way to beat Chicago -- on the road, no less -- they'll be playing with house money on their way to home-field advantage once again.
My dad mentioned to me yesterday that he can't stand the new Monday Night Football broadcast crew of Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser. I agreed that it just doesn't seem to be working yet, and as I'm sitting here watching the Saints thump the Falcons, I haven't been dissuaded.
His main issue is with Tirico, who I think actually is doing a pretty decent job making the transition to the NFL. Gone is the propensity to shout that he (appropriately) displayed on his college broadcasts; in is an understated style that has the more professional feel appropriate for a professional game. I think he'll continue to get better, especially when he realizes that it's OK to open up the vocal cords when a big play does happen. (There was a fabulous play by Michael Vick where he eluded three rushers only to flip a pass to his fullback to pick up a first down; Tirico seemed unimpressed.)
My main issue is with Theismann. His egomaniacal style fit pretty well in ESPN's old Sunday night crew with Mike Patrick and Paul Maguire, mostly because I think he viewed Maguire -- anothe former football player -- as a worthy adversary, Maguire was never afraid to call BS on Theismann, and Patrick was exceptional at playing referee. However, I think this is the reason he and Kornheiser just aren't meshing.
Kornheiser -- who has refused so far refused to indulge Theismann's need for a foil -- has become a great addition to the crew. After initially seeming tentative and afraid to step on Theismann's toes, he's opened up with witty and insightful analysis of the games and -- more imporantly -- the people in and around the games. He's doing exactly what ESPN execs brought him in to do.
Theismann, on the other hand, seems intimidated by Kornheiser's eloquence and quick wit from time to time, and has a propensity to repeat himself over and over and over again. I didn't count exactly how many times Theismann talked about the new turf in the Superdome, but it had to be at least 10 over the span of the first half. It was borderline ridiculous, and I found myself shouting at the TV, "Enough! I get it! The rubber hasn't settled yet, and it's comparable to a muddy field! ... And it's not the reason why Atlanta is losing!"
What this crew really needs is a hardcore X's and O's guy, somebody who seems comfortable enough with himself to let Kornheiser do what he was hired to do and who doesn't seem to constantly feel the need to assert his manhood. I know FOX would be reticent to let ESPN get their greasy mitts on him, but Troy Aikman would be the perfect fit for that booth. He's smart and confident and has an air of professional about him that I believe would fit in nicely with Tirico's understated style.
Following up on BALCO ...
- You already know how I feel about a federal judge in California ruling that two San Francisco Chronicle journalists must break promises to confidential sources and reveal their identities or go to prison. (By the way, I want to be clear that I don't necessarily blame the judge, who is there to execute the law; I blame the overzealous prosecutors who had the option to not subpoena the reporters in the first place, but chose to anyway.)
Here are just a couple of more perspectives I ran across. I mentioned that this kind of a ruling can set a dangerous precedent; at least one columnist thinks that we're already heading that direction. I also found this transcript of an interview with Mark Fainaru-Wada conducted back in June, in which he explains in detail why he and Lance Williams did what they did. Pretty long, but also gives a lot of insight.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Given the Cougars' history the last two years against terrible Stanford teams, I wasn't taking anything for granted heading into today's game, even though WSU was a 10-point favorite.
As it turns out, I could have taken plenty for granted -- and then some.
The Cougars ripped Stanford, 36-10, in a game that really wasn't even that close. WSU completely dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage, highlighted by Mkristo Bruce's school-record five sacks and 240 rushing yards for the offense.
Bruce was unstoppable. The few times he actually was stopped usually were the result of a stiff double team or an outright hold. However, he owes a big high-five to the defensive secondary, which absolutely put the clamps down on Stanford's young receivers, allowing him time to get to the quarterback.
Offensively, Stanford had absolutely no answer for the Cougars. WSU marched up and down the field all day, and if it weren't for three lost fumbles, the game might have been more like 45-3. As it was, the Cougs did pretty much anything they wanted all day.
Coming in, WSU knew Stanford's rushing defense was suspect, and they rotated all three of their running backs effectively to keep fresh legs running the ball hard. The best move of the game was a cut off the edge of the line by Darrell Hutsona, who did his best Reggie Bush impersonation by faking like he was going wide then cutting up into the hole to leave a safety wondering where he left his undergarments.
Much to many WSU fans' chagrin, Alex Brink again looked steady. He drew fans' ire in the first quarter when he fumbled a QB sneak on Stanford's 1-yard-line on the team's first drive. However, he was solid thereafter, throwing for a pair of touchdowns and sneaking another in (this time, without fumbling). He finished 21-of-33 for 228 yards, taking only one sack. Those numbers again included a few drops. Incidentally, Gary Rogers did not play, save for a couple of handoffs and a kneeldown at the end of the game.
The most surprising thing of the day had nothing to do with the game itself; it had to do with the lamest atmosphere I've ever been around for a college football game. The attendance was announced at 37,498 in the brand spanking new 50,000 seat Stanford Stadium, but the actual attendance was probably about half that. There was no band; apparently, the bandies got themselves in trouble when they ripped apart some school property earlier this summer and are now on double secret probation. Overall, I think the Coug fans in attendance were much louder.
All in all, it was an awesome day, made better by getting to hang out with my brother.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Well, I'm on the ground here in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, hanging out in the humble abode of my brother and his wife. I'll be heading off to Palo Alto for the WSU-Stanford game in the morning, and should have a first-hand account of the game to give you tomorrow night. In the meantime, here are my takes on the two teams that matter most to you:
Line: Cougars by 10.
How we got here: The Cougs roll into
Meanwhile, Stanford comes in beat up and beaten down. The Cardinal’s 0-3 record includes a pair of embarrassing losses, one to
Key matchup: Stanford has beaten WSU the last two years in
Prediction: The fact that WSU is a 10-point favorite on the road says less about how good the Cougs are and more about how terrible everyone thinks Stanford is. Then again, everyone thought Stanford was pretty terrible last year when they lost to I-AA UC Davis before the matchup. The Cougs coasted into that game expecting to walk all over the Cardinal and got shocked. Here’s betting they don’t let that happen again. WSU 24, Stanford 10.
UCLA (2-0) at Washington (2-1)
Line: UCLA by 3.
How we got here: Washington is riding high after equaling its win total from a year ago thanks to a big special teams play last Saturday against Fresno State. The defensive front seven has looked pretty good, and the team has been able to make just enough plays to win a couple of games that they probably would have lost in the last couple of years. It's got the Huskies dreaming for six -- the six wins they'd need to squeeze into a bowl game.
UCLA travels away from the Rose Bowl for the first time this season, albeit after a week off. The Bruins have looked solid if unspectacular in their first two games, picking up wins against Utah and Rice in games that never were in doubt. Having a sophomore at quarterback isn't such a bad thing when he's 23, and UCLA has a good one in Ben Olson. Although he's only thrown for an average of 221 yards, he's rated No. 1 in the Pac-10 in quarterback efficiency (172.4). He seems to be making the Bruins forget about all those NFL draft picks from a year ago -- for now.
Key matchup: Olson's ability to throw against Washington's secondary -- the weak links of weak links the last few years -- likely will be the deciding factor in the game. The Huskies have yet to face a team that throws the ball particularly well, so this will be the first true test of that revamped secondary. That said, Oklahoma was able to move the ball through the air from time to time, something they didn't do much of before or since. Washington will need to stop Olson if it wants to have any chance to win.
Prediction: Olson's arm will be too much for a Husky defensive secondary that still has major flaws. However, I think Washington has made big strides, and this Saturday they'll keep it close before folding late. UCLA 28, UW 24.
Eleven years ago, when I was in high school, there was this big fight that took place in our parking lot that involved about 100 kids, appeared to be racially charged and resulted in a lot of damage to people and property. A pair of our school newspaper photographers smartly grabbed their cameras and snapped a couple of roles of the action.
The police, of course, investigated the fight. However, when they ran out of their own leads, they wanted to see our unpublished photographs, you know, so they could get the bad guys. They were shocked when our 18-year-old editor had the audacity to tell them no, that it would be tantamount to a news organization becoming an agent of the police, that we had to protect our right to gather information and keep that information confidential. Well, the big bad police weren't about to let some high school girl tell them no. So they took her to court, where she eventually was found in contempt for refusing to turn over the negatives.
They were going to send an 18-year-old girl to prison.
For not turning over photos of a fight.
I'm reminded of this scene as our governtment is preparing to make another grave mistake along the same lines. A judge in San Francisco sentenced two reporters to jail time yesterday for refusing to reveal the source that leaked grand jury testimony to them in a series of articles aimed at exposing BALCO and the elite athletes it served with designer steroids. (The sentence has been stayed, pending appeal. But precedent is not on their side.)
The interesting thing to me is that I'm reminded of this not because of the threat of jail time, but because it never ceases to amaze me how far someone in power will go to prove their point when someone dares to tell them "no." Let's remember: Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada broke no laws in writing their stories. The information was brought to them, and reporting on it is not a crime. The only one to break laws before their refusal to testify was the person who leaked the information.
So, rather than devote the necessary man hours and financial resources it would take to do good detective work that might actually help them find the person who actually broke the law, the government has come after a pair of reporters who have been nothing but ethical and professional in their investigating of an issue that has ramifications far beyond the playing field. The prosecutors and judge taken the easy road, which involves simply flexing their muscles and hoping these two reporters cave. As one analyst put it, the government has taken it "to the mattresses," an appropo description for what amounts to mob-like coersion: "Don't want to give us what we want? Let's see how you like it on the inside!"
Memo to the government: Do your own dirty work. Don't pick on a couple of good journalists just because you're too lazy and/or inept to find the real law-breaker yourself.
Despite the numerous hits the journalism industry has taken in the last decade or so (see: Blair, Jayson), guys like these make me proud to call myself a journalist. I had the pleasure of seeing them do a presentation on investigative journalism to about 300 high schoolers at a journalism conference I attended last spring, and I came away awed at their humility and their steadfast belief that what they were writing absolutely had to be written. They give me hope for what our profession can be, despite its flaws.
That high school girl? She's now a professional journalist who never went to jail; the government wisely realized they were barking up the wrong tree. Let's hope these prosecutors and judge similarly wake up and realize the kind of damage they're doing ... before it's too late.
For more on why this such a bad thing, not only for the writers but for our country, please read the following articles, especially -- especially -- if you think these writers are getting what they deserve. A free press must be allowed to operate without restriction:
- "Outcome for Chroncicle reporters means we all lose," by Wright Thompson, ESPN.com
- "The BALCO Boys Face Prison. How Is That Possible?" by CW Nevius, San Francisco Chronicle
- "A Real Game of Shadows," by Jim Caple, ESPN.com
Thanks for being patient while I redesigned the blog. I have now made the complete move to Blogger Beta, which allows for greater control over the layout of the site. Some of the more notable changes:
- The color scheme and logos are now a bit more reflective of the content of the site: Goodbye lamo orange army star in the corner, hello team logos!
- The site is now considerably wider, allowing for easier reading of the posts, which are no longer extremely long and narrow.
- The Beta move also allows you to subscribe to my posts through RSS feeds on Atom, by either clicking here, or clicking on the Atom link at the bottom of the page.
- On the sidebar on the right, I've now incorporated a handful of news feeds from ESPN.com, The News Tribune, The Seattle Times and Fanball.com. (I've got nothing against the Seattle P-I, but they don't offer a comprehensive RSS feed of their sports site.)
- Each post is now categorized, so if you want to see what I've written about the Seahawks, you can see all of those posts at once (also listed down the side).
My latest post follows. Be looking for my WSU/Stanford and UW/UCLA previews, which will be up on the site by Saturday, and my Seahawks/Giants preview, which will be up by Sunday.
One of the great things about the Internet -- or not great, if you're a politician -- is that it continues to break down barriers to information that non-journalists experienced in the past.
When I was in college studying journalism, we talked a lot about the responsibility that we as journalists had as the "gatekeepers" of information: Since newspapers and newsbroadcasts alike are finite -- both in space and man hours -- there is a ton of stuff that never makes it into the paper or onto your television each day.
The notion of a gatekeeper is becoming antiquated, thanks to guys like Mike Sando, the Seahawks beat writer for for The News Tribune who also maintains the "Seahawks Insider" blog (which I pumped up a couple of months ago here). Not only does he post breaking news and also a lot of the tidbits that never make it into the newspaper (for whatever reason), but he also posts complete audio of just about every interview he conducts. Now, he's making it easier than ever to get the audio with podcasts. How can you get it?
- Long and cumbersome way: Go to the blog, look for his audio posts, and download each file manually.
- Easy way: Get a podcast subscription using this link and whatever podcast software you desire: http://www.thenewstribune.com/static/podcasts/seahawks/rss.xml.
- Easiest way: Use iTunes.
Since I don't interview a lot of people anymore, I absolutely love listening to these things. You just lose so much in translation (such as the context of the question) when quotes are taken out and put into stories. Plus, you get all the quotes, not just the ones the writer deemed important enough to write about. Very, very cool.
I wish I was as creative as those tricky guys at ESPN -- you know, the ones who think up those catchy names like "Separation Saturday" to try and get you to watch more of the games on their family of networks. Then I could come up with a snazzy name for my crazy weekend of football that included my wife and I attending three football games in three days: Emerald Ridge vs. Rogers in Puyallup on Friday, Washington State vs. Baylor in Seattle on Saturday, and the Seahawks vs. Cardinals in Seattle on Sunday.
Given the fact that my wife is three months pregnant and experiencing all the fun things that come along with that, maybe I should have called it "Stupid Guy Marching His Sick Wife All Over Western Washington," but that just doesn't have much of a ring to it.
Whatever you want to call it -- Footballfest? Footballapalooza? -- it was, without a doubt, one of the most fun sports experiences of my life.
Some observations I picked up along the way:
- When your wife is pregnant and throwing up and she still goes with you to all those games because she loves you ... well, let's just say she's a keeper! (Then again, this is the same woman who attended the 2003 Holiday Bowl between the Cougs and Texas with me on our honeymoon, so I already know what an amazing wife I've got. However, I now owe her big time -- I sense some trips to the 5th Ave. Theater and many nights getting up to feed the baby in my future ... and it was totally worth it!)
- This would seem to be obvious, but it's worth stating anyway: There's no such thing as too much football. I mean it. It was awesome. And not just awesome in the "that was pretty cool" sense; I mean it in the "I got to watch my three favorite teams -- in person -- in three days" awesome.
- After watching WSU fans lustily boo Alex Brink on Saturday, I think I finally figured out why they have so much dislike for him. No matter how good his stats are, no matter how many times he makes a good play or the right pass, he always seems to not make a play that he should make that costs his team. It's that play -- like failing to recognize a wide-open Jason Hill on a play-action bootleg until it's too late, then woefully underthrowing him -- that always sticks in fans' heads.
When I told another fan I ran into on Sunday that Brink actually ended up completing 65 percent of his passes, he didn't believe me. Additionally, had the Cougars hung onto four good passes that they dropped (one of them a sure touchdown to Hill), he would have been well over 300 yards and that completion percentage would have been over 75 percent. I know it's tough to give the guy credit, but I'd encourage Coug fans to recognize that he didn't get a lot of help early in the game, and that he was 3-of-4 for 57 yards on the game-winning drive, including a pair of third down conversions.
- The Cougars defense is pretty darn good. They're fast, and, outside of the second drive of the game -- which Baylor had to take only 59 yards for the score -- completely shut out the Bears. (Remember that eight of their 15 points were scored on a botched punt snap that turned into a safety and a defensive touchdown.) WSU used a 3-4 defense that hadn't been seen much in the Idaho game, but seemed to work well against Baylor.
The Cougs were able to generate a considerable amount of pressure with just three down linemen which freed up the linebackers to swarm to the ball on Baylor's array of short passes out of their spread offense. I'm skeptical that such a scheme will work once the Pac-10 schedule starts, but it's definitely worth a look -- it gives the Cougs an opportunity to throw something different at opposing offenses, and they seem to be able to move seemlessly from one front to the other.
- I'm not sure Pork Chop Womack will see the field again this year, unless someone gets hurt. I said last week that he clearly was the weakest link in an offensive line that didn't paly well overall against the Lions, and I don't think he showed me anything much different this Sunday before he got hurt. I think Mike Holmgren felt like he owed him a shot to start, but former first round pick Chris Spencer is just too talented to keep off the field. And now that he's on the field, I don't see him letting go. It's unfortunate for Womack, who's been a bit of a hard-luck lineman the past few years, but I don't think it's a coincidence that the Hawks scored their third TD shortly after Spencer replaced Womack. Holmgren even said after the game that Womack probably could have come back in an emergency, yet, perhaps not-so-strangely didn't feel the need to rush him back in. (Update: Womack is out for 4-6 weeks.)
- The Seahawks defense is as good as advertised, and although it might not be on the level of Chicago, San Diego or Baltimore so far this season, it's heading that direction. I think Arizona is a pretty good football team, and that win over San Francisco last week looks a lot better now that the 49ers went on the road to beat a St. Louis team that beat Denver a week earlier.
- I also wouldn't be all that concerned about the offense. It will get there. Trust me.
As if this wild weekend wasn't enough -- and as if my wife wasn't awesome enough -- I'm heading down to Palo Alto, Calif., on Friday to watch the Cougs take on Stanford on Saturday while vising my brother and his wife, who live just outside San Francisco. Then I'm flying back Sunday morning where my wife and father will pick me up and take me up to Qwest Field for the Seahawks game vs. the Giants.
How cool is my life?
Listening to the national pundits, you'd think after the Seahawks' anemic offensive performance led to "only" a 9-6 win over Detroit that the Hawks are heading straight for the toilet. (Never mind that these are the same "experts" who thought the Panthers were the class of the NFC ... before they went out and got slapped by the Falcons. At home.)
Maybe I just have rose colored glasses on. Maybe I'm just totally jacked up about going to the home opener next weekend against Arizona. But I didn't come away as discouraged as it seems everyone thinks we Hawk fans should be.
Do I think they should have won by a more comfortable margin? Sure. But there are a lot of reasonable explanations for their offensive ineptitude, and almost all of them are correctable as the season goes along.
At this point in the season, defenses are ahead of the offenses, especially when said offense has new key cogs in the line and receiving corps. And when that defense is playing with a lot of emotion for a new coach in their home opener ... well, let's just say that's a recipe for trouble for any team.
I'll admit, I was a bit disturbed by their inability to run the ball, or to get a receiver open downfield after the first series. But I believe that the holes will open for Alexander once Pork Chop -- who was absolutely awful on Sunday, but is starting because Holmgren feels like he owes it to him -- is replaced by Chris Spencer, who looked very good in the preseason. And the passing game will grow in strength as the season goes along and Hasselbeck establishes a strog rapport with his ever-changing receiving corps.
And I'm here to tell you that change is good.
The addition of Deion Branch was a coup for the Seahawks. Some people believe that the Seahawks overpaid by sending a first-round pick to the Patriots, but I use this rationale: The window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl is small, and next year's first-round pick isn't exactly likely to help us win a Super Bowl this season, or even next season. Branch helps us now.
For those wondering why we're paying so much to so many receivers, think of how the trio of Jackson, Burleson and Branch is going to grow together over the next few years. Engram has a lot of miles on those tires, and he's not going to be around much longer. This makes for probably the deepest group of receivers in the league, and once they start to gel ... look out.
And maybe, just maybe, Branch can help us get one of those pretty little trophies he's holding in the picture above.
So take heart, Hawks fans. The team played far from its best, with an offense still looking to click, and still won. And in the NFL, a win, is a win, is a win.
Don't you think the Panthers would like to be in our position right now?
Welcome to the first of what I hope to be many installments of these running gameday diaries. I'll post my thoughts on any number of topics as the game goes along. I want this to be an interactive experience, so please post comments as we go, and I'll respond.
Find the live box score of the game here.
10:01 a.m. -- Begin diary: I'm settling in, getting ready to watch the first Seahawks game of the year in glorious HD splendor. Who better than a Coug, Jason Hanson, to kick it off?
10:03 a.m.: As the coin toss broke, we had our first camera shot of Mike Martz, new offensive coordinator of the Lions. I'm shuddering to think of how many times we're going to see him this game ... I'm setting the over/under at 13.5 camera shots of Martz. Any takers?
10:05 a.m.: Two plays, two passes, 45 yards. Looking good so far.
10:08 a.m.: Four more plays ... 3-yard run, incomplete pass, 2-yard loss, blocked field goal. Nevermind ...
10:16 a.m.: Lions take the lead on a Hanson field goal after moving down the field a bit easier than I'm sure Mike Holmgren would have liked. Saw a lot of typical Mike Martz offense on the drive -- formation shifts, misdirection, moving pockets. I'm not too surprised that it worked early, as Martz knows the Seahawks defense as well as anybody, and that can lead to a pretty good gameplan early on. I'm betting it won't continue, as the Seahawks' athleticism takes over.
By the way, it was awful good to see Ken Hamlin pop someone after missing a tackle on that draw play.
10:19 a.m.: The Willie Ponder era has officially begun, and I like what I see. I was pretty unhappy when the Seahawks once again went through a draft without picking up a true return guy; it seems to be such a simple thing that the Seahawks have ignored for a lot of years. Ponder seems to bring an element of explosiveness that the kicking game has lacked for most of the franchise's 30-year history.
10:24 a.m.: Two drives, a blocked field goal, an Alexander fumble ... yuck. The Seahawks offense has yet to meet the Lions' defensive intensity. Boy, never thought I'd use the words "Lions" and "intensity" in the same sentence. This is a bit embarrasing at the moment.
10:34 a.m.: Matt Hasselbeck looks like he's still playing in last year. He's poised and patient and is consistently finding the open receiver. Great sign, even though we have no points yet. If he keeps playing like this, the points will come. (Preferably to Darrell Jackson. My fantasy football opponent is starting Hass, while I'm starting Jackson ...)
End of the first quarter -- Lions 3, Seahawks 0.
10:40 a.m.: Um ... when was the last time you saw two blocked field goals in one NFL game? I don't know the answer to that question, but I definitely know the answer next time someone asks that question on "Stump the Schwab." All that time they spent working on special teams clearly has paid off.
10:47 a.m.: Hasselbeck scare averted. After taking a serious pop on that last sack, he's back in the game and hasn't missed a beat. By the way, he's now 12-of-13 for 120 yards. Wow.
10:52 a.m.: Just watched "The King" dish out his Double Whopper. Am I the only one just a little bit uncomfortable watching the creepy King from Burger King in these commercials? I still can't shake the image of those breakfast commercials where people are waking up with him in their beds ...
10:56 a.m.: Hallelujah. The first points of the season, and they even came on a field goal that wasn't blocked. I'm not sure whether I'm relieved that they scored some points, or irritated that they couldn't figure out a way to get the ball in the end zone. Probably some of both. Seahawks 3, Lions 3.
11:01 a.m.: It's a good thing I'm not a Vegas oddsmaker. One hour into the game and we finally had our second shot of Martz, even though they haven't stopped talking about him since the game started. I'd say the under is looking pretty good right now.
11:02 a.m.: Mr. Bradford, meet Mr. Tatupu. Mr. Furrey, meet Mr. Hamlin. Good to see the Hammer lay some wood, even though he made the catch. Looks like he's back to me, and not exactly shying away from contact.
11:07 a.m.: Julian Peterson's first sack of the season. Could have been a turnover, but a good thing nonetheless. Outside of that first series, the defense has looked very good. Workmanlike performance so far.
Halftime: Seahawks 6, Lions 3.
Analysis: While I'm not exactly feeling like a million bucks right now, I'm not all that discouraged, either. The defense has played very well, and the offense has had little trouble moving the ball. While I'm a bit concerned by our inability to put together much of a running game -- which is seeming to go hand in hand with very average offensive line play. Tough to say how much of that is missing Hutchinson's talent, and how much of that is a new line learning how to play together. Don't forget, this unit didn't play much togerhter during the preseason, due to various injuries to Womack, Tobeck and Jones. I look for the Seahawks to blow this thing open in the second half and win comfortably by a couple of touchdowns.
11:52 a.m.: Well, not looking so good so far. The defense appears to be missing Leroy Hill, because DD Lewis has missed a number of tackles. I know Kevin Jones is a tough runner, but it's not like this guy has set the league on fire in his short career ... let's wrap up and make a tackle.
11:56 a.m.: I love Lofa Tatupu. The dude just throws his body around and makes plays, even when he's not making plays. He just negated a first down by the Lions by drawing a holding penalty on a blitz. Totally awesome.
11:58 a.m.: Tough crowd. Kitna just threw the ball out of bounds, and the boo birds are back. The Lions are within three of the defending NFC champs midway through the third quarter ... I think that's more than they could have expected at this point.
Noon: What's with the stupid Nike high school commercials featureing Nike's stable of NFL players? Is anyone else bothered by the fact that a bunch of NFL players spend the better part of the commercial beating the crap out of high schoolers, then need a last second play from Vick -- a pass, no less, making the commercial even less believable -- to win in the end? Am I off base here?
12:10 p.m.: As the Seahawks are punting -- again -- I wonder: When was the last time a wide receiver caught a pass? For all that talent, I can't believe they can't get open against the Lions ...
12:15 p.m.: Gotta go do a little work around the house ... I'll check in again near the end of the game.
1 p.m.: Brown ends it with a field goal, and he's going nuts. What he ought to be doing is one of those Jordan fist pumps where he just kind of stands there, showing everyone that he knew it was going to happen all along. I'm relieved; a win, is a win, is a win. I'll check in with a full analysis tomorrow. Whew.
End of the game: Seahawks 9, Lions 6.
The blog has returned! Thanks for being patient this summer as I took some time to relax, recuperate and see some of the warmer parts of Washington. Be looking tomorrow for my gameday diary during the Seahawks game. Now, on with our regularly scheduled thoughts on sports ...
Count me among those who wish the Associated Press would do away with its preseason rankings. Besides the fact that it gives such an unfair BCS advantage to teams that begin the year highly ranked, outside of the top few teams we just don't know how good teams are until they start playing some games that matter.
For example, both the Cougars and Huskies now have two games under their belts -- one home game against a patsy, one road game against one of the better teams in the country -- and I think both teams' fans ought to feel pretty encouraged by what they saw.
In a game that looked awful scary to most Coug fans, WSU obliterated an Idaho team that played pretty well on the road against Michigan State a week ago. After a bit of sputtering in the first quarter, the Cougs proceeded to make Dennis Erickson and the Vandals look like they were the I-AA incarnation he coached in Moscow 25 years ago.
The defense looked fast and stout, as it did for much of last week's game at Auburn before humidity and time of possession took its toll. The offense finally found some rhythm, rolling up more than 650 yards without its starting running back and looking like the high-powered unit everyone expected before the season started.
When you take into account Auburn's 34-0 shutout of Mississippi State on the road this week, I have come to these two conclusions: 1) Auburn is really, really good; and, 2) The Cougs probably are going to be pretty good, too, just like we thought.
As for Washington, Husky fans should be encouraged. Much like WSU against Auburn, UW was able to keep the game close for a half against Oklahoma by running the ball well, only to fold in the second half after falling behind.
The defense looked remarkably physical -- if not a bit overmatched in terms of overall talent -- and played well enough to keep the game respectable. However, when that offense is put into the position of passing the ball every down to catch up, it cannot succeed, especially against a team as talented as the Sooners.
If the Huskies are going to have any shot at being better than everyone thinks, I think the formula now becomes pretty clear: Keep it close with defense and control the clock by running the ball on offense and hope Stanback can mix in a big play or two without killing momentum with poor decisions.
Speaking of that Cougar offense, I didn't see anything Saturday to persuade me that Gary Rogers should take the starting quarterback job away from Alex Brink.
Cougars fans were all up in arms last week when a dismal performance by Brink was coupled with what appeared to be a brilliant performance by Rogers in just one series. While I haven't always been the biggest fan of Brink -- I thought he got the job from Josh Swogger under false pretenses in the first place -- he showed me a lot last season, and that shouldn't be so quickly forgotten by the WSU faithful.
Let's remember that this is the first WSU quarterback in a long time to win two consecutive Apple Cups, and that the team scored 33.5 points per game under his leadership. He completed more than 57 percent of his passes, threw 24 touchdowns against only 13 interceptions, and was second in the Pac-10 in total offense (behind only former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart).
Say what you want about his seeming inability to complete a pass in a lot of crucial situations last season, and how you think that led to the Cougars' disappointing record. And, say what you want about him riding the coattails of Jerome Harrison. I'll say that 33.5 points ought to be enough to win most of your games, and that you ought to be a lot quicker to hang those losses on the defensive secondary, which was completely inept most of the season. Such is the life of a quarterback.
I'll be the first to agree that the situation against Auburn might have warranted sticking with the hot hand in a game that seemed to still be at least somewhat in reach; Brink clearly was rattled and off his game, and Rogers seemed poised as he showed off that rocket arm that Coug fans are so fascinated by.
But lets keep the big picture in mind: Brink has proven himself to be a pretty good quarterback, while Rogers hasn't proven much.
Oh, by the way -- Brink was 12 of 15 for 231 yards and three TDs against Idaho; Rogers was 6 of 9 for 62 yards and TD. And it could be a heck of a lot worse for Coug fans -- their quarterback could be Isaiah Stanback ...
Which leads me to my next thought.
Complete and total lack of alternative talent on the roster aside -- unless you count the freshman messiah -- I often wonder why UW coaches keep thinking (hoping?) Stanback can be a Pac-10 quarterback.
Then, I understand.
No matter how many fastballs he fires at receivers' feet or seven yards over their heads, a few times a game he makes a play that just leaves you shaking your head.
Such was the case late in the third quarter against Oklahoma. Down by 10 and facing 3rd-and-10 from deep in his own territory, Stanback spun out of a sure sack, put his left hand on the ground to steady himself, and continued scrambling to his left. With an oncoming defender in his face, he flicked the ball side-arm around the defender and hit a receiver standing at the first down marker for the conversion. He also nearly kept that same drive going with a tremendous 3rd-down scramble away from a blitzing cornerback, barely stepping out of bounds two yards before the marker.
Of course, that last play would never have happened if he hadn't missed a wide-open receiver 20 yards downfield on the previous play. Then, as if to confirm my observations as I wrote, he came up with the capper -- the play that has to make Tyrone Willingham wonder if the things he does well really outweigh all the mistakes he makes.
With a point-blank opportunity to get back into the game on 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard line after the defense forced a turnover in the end zone, he coughs up the football on an option to give it right back to the Sooners. Instead of possibly closing to within three points at 20-17, Oklahoma would turn that turnover into an Adrian Peterson touchdown to make the margin 30-13 and effectively end the game heading into the fourth quarter.
The Washington athletic department might want to invest in padded rooms for its offensive coaches before the year is out.